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I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the article titled “Rat Tales” (6/15). For the most part, the article portrayed an accurate accounting of the District of Columbia’s progress in attacking the rodent problem. However, there are a few points of clarification that I would like to add.

As stated in the article, when Mayor Anthony A. Williams took office, on Jan. 2, 1999, he made the reduction of the rodent population in the District of Columbia one of his top priorities. He quickly followed this pledge by holding a Rat Summit, whereby city stakeholders could meet with nationally known scientists to discuss strategies to combat the problem. Subsequently, he enlisted the services of Bruce Colvin, Ph.D. in biology and leading expert on rodent control, to assist the city in devising a systematic, comprehensive approach to reducing rodents in the District of Columbia. Colvin released a report in September 1999.

The District has implemented many of the recommendations from Colvin’s report. At the beginning of fiscal year 2000, the mayor directed the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Department of Health (DOH) to develop a memorandum of understanding to begin the process of transferring the function of rodent control from the DPW to the DOH. The agreement essentially placed under the control of the DOH a total of 15 full-time employees and $658,000 from which to operate.

Although the numbers appeared inconsistent with those for like-size cities, the DOH had numerous successes in its first year. The DOH began to cross-train inspectors in other programs—the food inspectors and health facility inspectors—on rodent-control procedures. Thus the number of inspectors trained to enforce the rodent program increased by approximately 56 persons. Additionally, prior to the end of his contract with the city, Colvin conducted more general training on rodent control for housing inspectors within the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and staff within the Water and Sewer Authority. At a later date, the DOH provided additional departments with basic training: Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and the D.C. Housing Authority were among those trained.

Other activities in fiscal year 2000 included the distribution of 80,000 outreach and education materials and the participation in 109 community forums. A major success came on Oct. 19, 2000. On this date, the Council of the District of Columbia approved the Rodent Control Act of 2000, which increased the fine schedule, allowing for businesses to be fined up to $1,000 and residents fined up to $75 for specific violations. This one action gave the DOH the ability to “put teeth into” its enforcement efforts.

In fiscal year 2001, the Department of Health’s budget for rodent control activities is $1,041,000 and there are 27 rodent-control employees. For fiscal year 2002, the council has approved a budget request for $1.3 million. In addition, an increase in revenue is expected because of the increased fine schedule.

It is important to note that the program is dependent on the cooperation of citizens and businesses in properly managing solid waste and eliminating rodent harborage. In addition, federal and private partnerships are an important component of the program—federal land constitutes more than 40 percent of the land area in the District. Without the full participation of all of these components, it will be difficult for the rodent control program to succeed.

Still, the District continues to accomplish much. So far this fiscal year, the Department of Public Works has distributed 45,000 Supercans, with the intention of distributing a total of 75,000. This effort is in addition to the 50,000 waste containers that were distributed last fiscal year. Within the DOH, a sewer survey was completed recently, and a baiting program is being implemented within select sites

around the city. In addition, the DOH has accomplished the following: the baiting of 1,564 premises, the abatement of 1,030 premises, the issuance of 123 notices of infractions, the issuance of 21 abatement orders, the collection of $16,675 in fines, the closure of 73 food establishments, and the distribution of 20,818 pieces of literature. We look forward to future successes in this upcoming fiscal year. Much progress has been made, and more is to come.

Chief Operating Officer

D.C. Department of Health